Why We Let Our Kids Watch TV

posted by Andrea | 08/11/2014

kids and TV

Every couple of weeks, it seems like I get another email from a blog reader asking something about kids watching TV, kids and screen time, or kids and other electronic devices. Most of the emails are asking my thoughts on the issues, if we let our kids watch TV, how much screen time we let them have, etc. etc.

While I do believe this is an important topic we should think about; I definitely would not consider myself an expert on this area of parenting (or really any area of parenting) since my kids are only 2.5 and 5 months!

I never considered doing a blog post about kids and TV or kids and screen time; but recently, I received 3 different emails from moms or grandmas who read my blog and wanted to thank me for making them feel OK about occasionally letting their children / grandchildren watch a little TV.

All 3 women alluded to the fact that they felt bad if they let their children watch any TV since most other internet sources portray TV and other “screens” to be horrible influences on children. They said that it was a relief for them to read that Dave and I DO let our kids watch TV and that we don’t feel bad about it or try to hide it.

I was honestly somewhat confused as to why it was such a big deal that I’ve shared about our kids watching TV in previous blog posts — but as I thought about it a bit more, I realized that I really haven’t seen many blog posts or internet articles about parents who let their kids watch TV. Yet, at the same time, almost every single parent I know lets their kids watch TV at some point (even the ones who say they “never” do).

Are we really too ashamed to admit we let our kids veg-out in front of the TV every once in a while?

Or maybe Dave and I are the only parents who have ever let our kids watch TV? :)

Well, in the interest of keeping things real once again — I would just like to announce, once and for all, that both our kids watch a fair amount of TV every day. 

This is not because we are horrible parents. It’s not because we don’t have time or energy to play with our kids. And it’s not because they can’t entertain themselves.

We let our kids watch TV simply because we believe in “all things in moderation” and we feel that by not making a big deal about TV or screen time when they are younger, it will simply be one of many activities they can choose to do (or not to do) as they grow older.

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This might sound naive or like a cop-out excuse because we don’t want to be “mean parents”, but Dave and I have actually thought about our decision and both agree that we have no issue with select TV programs and occasional iPad usage.

Let me explain why:

Growing up, my sisters and I watched a fair amount of TV because our parents never had super strict rules about it. We knew what shows we could and couldn’t watch, and we knew we would get in trouble if we watched a show we weren’t supposed to watch. Since TV and computer time was never forbidden, we really never thought much about it being a “privilege” or a “reward” or something we wanted to do all the time. We watched TV when there was something interesting on, and we turned it off when we were finished.

However, I had a couple friends who were not allowed to watch TV — and do you know what they wanted to do EVERY time they came over to play? They wanted to watch TV. I wanted to go swimming, ride bikes, play in the woods, or make a craft; but all they could think about was watching TV because it was not allowed at their house.

I also had a girl on my floor in college that was not allowed to watch TV growing up. You would not believe how many hours and hours of TV that girl watched every day. I think my roommate and I watched TV less than 10 times the entire year, but every time we passed that girl’s room, she was parked on the couch, watching TV.

In my experience, whenever TV (or junk food, alcohol, movies, dating, etc.) is strictly prohibited, there is a much higher chance that child will rebel and crave those restricted items after they move away from Mom and Dad…

And THAT’s why we’re perfectly fine letting Nora watch a little PBS, Baby Einstein, or Netflix every now and then.

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As some of you might know, Nora is EXTREMELY stubborn and strong-willed. The second we tell her she can’t do something, it’s all she can think about doing. So if we told her she couldn’t watch TV, it’s all she would think and talk about ALL. DAY. LONG.

Since she has officially stopped taking any sort of nap or rest time, she watches a few 20-minute shows each day when Simon is sleeping (usually Daniel Tiger and Curious George). This means I get a quick break to make dinner, clean up the kitchen, go to the bathroom in peace, check my emails, or do a little work. When the show is finished, Nora and I can do something fun together before Simon wakes up.

She’s happy, I’m happy, we both get a little “alone time” and then we’re ready to do something else.

Oh, and since I’m being honest, I should mention that there are days when she watches more than a few shows! 

If it’s raining outside, if Simon is being fussy, if she’s overwhelmed from a busy morning out of the house, or if I just need a break and don’t feel like reading her 2 favorite Berenstain Bears books 8 times in a row, I turn on a 12-minute Daniel Tiger or Curious George episode on Netflix.

And no, I don’t feel bad.

I’m home with our kids ALL day long, and we do lots of fun things. We play outside, we read books, we sing songs, we do crafts, we cook and bake, we learn numbers and letters, we play with friends and neighbors, Dave plays with them when he’s home, and their grandparents play with them regularly. They are not deprived… and there is no way a little TV could completely ruin them.

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I am not writing this blog post to justify the fact that we let our children watch TV. I’m writing this post because apparently there are a lot of parents who feel bad letting their kids watch a little TV because they think everyone else is doing Pinterest crafts and educational field trips all day long.

Believe me, those parents let their kids watch some TV too!

Even our friends who don’t have a TV because they claim it’s evil still let their kids watch shows on the computer :)

I realize that as our children get older, we will most likely need to set some rules and boundaries — like no TV, computers, or iPads in their bedrooms, restrictions on what they can and cannot watch, and no TV or fun computer activities until homework is finished. But right now, we’ll give ourselves a break and let our kids watch (and sing along) with Daniel Tiger — yes, it’s really cute!

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If you are struggling with the issue of screen time for your younger children, I don’t want to sway you one way or the other. However I will share how I often make parenting decisions — especially when I’m struggling with what choice to make.

I always try to stop and think about how serious the issue is in the broader scheme of life.

  • Will their morals be compromised by an episode of Thomas the Train?
  • Will they have severe health complications because they watched a Baby Einstein DVD?
  • Will anyone be injured if the TV is turned on for a while each day?

When I put the issue at hand into perspective a bit more, I can see that for me, TV is not a big deal. It’s not worth arguing over. It’s not worth tears or tantrums. We can watch a little TV and then go do something else. In fact, Nora is to the point where she turns the TV off after the show is finished because she is ready to move onto the next thing.

watching TV

TV is not a “prize”, it’s not a “reward”, and it’s not something she craves or desires. It’s just a way to relax for a bit in between playing outside and coloring.

And THAT’S why we let our kids watch TV.

I’d love to know your thoughts on kids and screen time (especially if you have older kids).

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54 comments

  1. JoDi

    08/11/2014

    Our parents were pretty similar to yours when it came to TV, and we watched it during the day and in the evening. Honestly, I enjoy watching it, but if it were up to me, I wouldn’t even own a TV. I just don’t care about watching it that much. I rarely have it on during the day if I’m home alone. It’s usually only on when my husband is home in the evening, and I’m usually doing something else while we watch.

    When our son was growing up, he watched TV, even when he was very young. Back then it was Barney, Fraggle Rock, and Thomas the Tank Engine. He and I often watched together. I enjoyed those kid shows alomg with him and still miss having an “excuse” to go see Disney cartoon movies. ;-) He’s almost 25 now and watches very little TV. He and his roommate have a TV, but they don’t have cable, just a Netflix subscription.

    We were always more concerned about the content of what he watched than we were about the quantity. As long as schoolwork got done and he spent plenty of time doing other activities too, we never felt the need to limit how much he watched.

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  2. Nicole

    08/11/2014

    I have three kids: 8, 5 and 2 1/2 (and one more on the way!), and our screen time rules have changed significantly over the years. Screen time restrictions cannot be blanket rules for all children at all stages of life. Our children all respond to screen time differently. My oldest gets obsessed (always has!) and cannot stop watching. My middle son will watch a little, play a little, and so I don’t worry about his intake as much as I do with my first. And my third little guy, can take it or leave it, but he DOES love Curious George.

    But what is true for all of them, regardless of obsessive tendencies or ability to change activities, is that they are MUCH nicer people, more helpful, more agreeable, more creative, etc., when we take a break from ALL screen time–which we do every now and then.

    We don’t realize just how much screens DO influence our little ones’ behavior and brains until we take it away completely and see the difference.

    Even still, during the school year, we DO let our kids watch a little TV or play the iPad, but we have pretty strict rules about it, and that’s worked pretty well for us. During the summer and on school breaks when I relax the rules, things start to go downhill again.

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    Katherine Reply:

    We have seen the same thing with our kids. Sometimes they just get obsessed with watching something, and then ask for it all the time, and the best thing is just to take a break for a week or something. It feels like resetting the system. Their heads get a little clearer when they have a good screen break periodically.

    All that being said, I am always advising other moms to use the t.v. as a babysitter on occasion. Especially with a new baby coming, or when a spouse is working long hours, etc. Do it guilt-free– you can always recalibrate the amount at any given time. We have “movie day” on Fridays with my kids, because by then I have used up all of my best parenting energy and am happy to put the kids in front of a nice, long movie.

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  3. Claudia Stewart

    08/11/2014

    I am a grandma of 10…raised 4 wonderful girls (all young Mom’s now)….and I agree with you wholeheartedly!

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  4. Leanne

    08/12/2014

    BEST ARTICLE EVER!
    as a homeschool mom, I am constantly reading how TV, computers, and not reading 5 hours a day will make them illiterate scum with no faith and no morals! uggh…..
    and here is the reality…
    my kids watch TV and play games on their kindles because that’s what people in the real world do…. we TEACH them to choose wisely…. with a real focus on purity issues because..well, their BOYS!
    there have been times that they have watched for hours….and days where they haven’t watched AT ALL!
    I am so glad you wrote this…. I love my kids and I love God, but I DETEST arbitrary “rules” that are based in NOTHING…..

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Leanne — and yes, I agree with your “reality” perspective!

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  5. Gervy

    08/12/2014

    Thank you thank you thank you!!!

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  6. Rebecca

    08/12/2014

    I agree with you 100%. When my oldest daughter was a baby, I was guilted into thinking tv was bad, but after becoming a stay at home mom, there was only so much I could do to entertain her while I was trying to get other things done. Now she is 6 years old, and we also have a 5 yr old and 6 month old. They watch as much tv on Netflix and PBS as they want. They will still rather go outside and play than sit in front of the tv when given the option!

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  7. Ann

    08/13/2014

    We don’t have a tv on our main floor where my grandkids spend 99% of their days. However, watching Daniel Tiger or Barney on my computer has saved this grandma many times! Wondering if we can watch Curious George on the computer. (We don’t have cable or netflix or amazon prime or anything). Wondering if anyone knows? I only found 2 hour movies when I searched and I’d rather have a 20-30 minute episode. Also looking for other recommendations for a 2 year old as he is getting sick of Daniel Tiger.

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    Stina Reply:

    Ann,
    You can usually watch Curious George episodes on PBSKids.org. They’ll usually add and delete episodes from time to time. I just checked, and it looks like there are currently several 12 to 13 minute episodes available.

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  8. Amy

    08/13/2014

    Love this!!! I have a 1 and 2 year old. My one year old has ZERO interest in tv, but my two year old will watch it as long as I have it on! I often times feel guilty for letting her watch tv, but I really like and agree with what you said about not completely restricting things becasue they may binge later in life. I never looked at it that way. We only have netflix, so we cant leave the tv on all day, but I do let her watch a few shows in the morning because she wakes up at 6am and then a show after her nap time.

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  9. E.H.

    08/14/2014

    Loved this article. When my girls were younger they watched television (PBS or movies/Netflix, etc) quite a bit as they were home with me, along with a lot of playing pretend, coloring, crafts, reading books, games, etc. I also home schooled them for a couple of their early years and YES, we definitely used the TV for things like documentaries and educational purposes, but I would be lying if I said that was all we watched. And I don’t feel bad about that.

    As our girls have gotten older (they are almost 9 and 10.5 now) we’ve had to talk about what is appropriate to watch and what is not, and we do have to watch how much time they spend in front of a computer or tablet or TV simply because they have school, homework, chores, sports, and music that compete with the time that they have when they are home. There are days I specifically make sure they DON’T have to do a chore or sports, etc. so that they can chose to veg in front of the TV for a bit or run around outside. Depending on the day they may choose to shoot baskets in the driveway, watch Netflix, or color.

    I’m trying to do the same with food. (Although, yes, in a perfect world they would eat only the healthiest of options :) ) Over regulating their food intake to always avoid “junk” food turns into the same issue. I have taught my girls the importance of balanced meals and a good diet and staying active. But I still buy my children ice cream and pudding cups. I still let them eat boxed cereal for breakfast because they love it….and honestly, that’s what I ate when I was a kid and it’s not a big deal to me. I had the same experience as you did with the girl in college/TV with my cousin (only it was with food). Every time she came over she wanted to eat all the sugar cereal we had because it was completely forbidden in her house. Cold cereal was just not a big deal to me, but it was to her, because she couldn’t ever have it. My mom also kept a “candy drawer” and it is just what it sounds like….she kept M&Ms, Twizzlers, and other types of candy in a drawer and we were allowed to grab a handful whenever we wanted and it was just no big deal. And to be honest…I’m not even a big candy person to this day. Neither is my brother. In fact, my brother and I eat very healthfully. It wasn’t denied to us and so it is just another thing to choose. I don’t keep a candy drawer in our house, but mainly, that’s just because candy is expensive and I can’t stand spending the money on it. ;)

    All this to say….Great article.

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — my parents STILL have their candy cabinet, and we have one too!

    Thanks for your comment ;)

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  10. Carrie

    08/15/2014

    Andrea, I am glad to see a post on TV watching. I read lots of mommy blogs and if TV is mentioned, it seems like the kid has to “earn” screen time or is restricted very severely. We have an 8 year old who we have always let watch TV. I still remember her dancing to the Caillou theme song over and over when she was two. She does not watch too much TV, it’s just something she does when she needs downtime or a favorite show comes on. The TV is always off in our house when it isn’t being watched, because, for her, that is a distraction. Needless to say, she plays, swims, rides bikes and uses her imagination all of the time. By not restricting TV it has become just something that can be done now and then; and I don’t feel the last bit bad about it :)

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  11. Alicia

    08/15/2014

    Thank you so much for writing this! I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately about my children (6 and 2) watching TV. I will admit, they watch probably a minimum of 2 hours of TV a day right now! My oldest loves movies, and will sit and watch TV all day long if I’d let him (which I don’t), but my youngest could really take it or leave it, and I don’t feel it’s a concern for him. I try to remind myself that this is just a phase. Not only is it summer time when our schedules are completely relaxed, but I’m also 13 weeks pregnant with our 3rd baby and have absolutely ZERO energy or tolerance, to be completely honest! I know normally I do find more activities and outings for them to do to keep them occupied throughtout the day, but right now I just don’t have it in me! SO yes, I do feel guilt about this.

    I completely agree with your assessment of moderation as well! Growing up, I was not allowed to watch TV pretty much at all. And my sister and I were just like your friends you mentioned: anytime we had an opportunity to watch TV, that’s all we wanted to do! Strangely, I never put it together until reading your post, but it makes complete sense! Its a great reminder to me that no, I’m not the worlds worst mother because my children watch TV. And yes, there are other moms out there who do it, too.

    Thank you for this post!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Oh boy Alicia, please don’t feel guilty! I remember when I was newly pregnant with Simion, a good friend said, “don’t feel bad if you just need to park Nora in front of the TV and take a nap on the couch”. I did that a couple times for sure :)

    Best of luck with baby #3!!

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  12. Bridgette

    08/16/2014

    Yes, great read! I have 5 children with ADHD. That being said, we have found under our particular circumstance that we have to have daily guidelines in place. When we did not, my children would just get sucked in and watch it all day long!! We sat down and had a long chat with our children about how we felt like it was too much since they were not doing anything else and they agreed. So even though I feel exactly the same, you should do things in moderation and I had friends whose parents did not allow them to eat sweets and they always wanted to sneak sweets, seeing the effects of that on those children, I still have a different situation that I had to modify to work for what is best for my family. I think the media makes too big of a deal out of a little TV at times because of extreme cases. I think people tend to try to look for something to blame when they see kids misbehave. I know that these companies that advertise games and television are getting more clever about getting people hooked on them. At the end of the day if your a responsible parent you can tell how much is too much for your children, if they are turning it off to do other things, thats a great indicator it is not too much! Never worry about exactly what all these people say to make you feel like you are not doing a good job monitoring this or that! Use your own judgement and learn to trust your own instinct, think it through and you will make the right choices for your own situation!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes Bridgette — I agree with everything you said :)

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  13. Jozie Mader

    08/18/2014

    Just wanted to say thank you Andrea and for your transparency on such a touchy subject for some. And I agree Bridgette. People love taking the blame and putting it on others. Like T.V. making people fat. My sister and I grew up watching T.V. all the time… at least once a week, and we were never fat children…. (Children… emphasize children haha! )

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  14. Heidi

    08/21/2014

    I stopped personally watching TV about 3 years go and in all honestly do not really miss it at all. I got fustrated with the commercials and the programming set up that is designed to suck you in to watching multiple shows back to back. So I took control over it by only watching a few select shows online. That way I control the time I watch, what I watch and am not forced to watch the commercials. So if I have 4 hours I can decide to veg out and have a mini marathon of Call The Midwife or Parenthood. Or if I just have a little time catch a quick episode of The Little Couple.

    That being said, I am not anti-TV at all in fact my kids and husband all watch TV I just choose not to participate. I mean I guess I listen to TV since it is on. I have 5 kids and each one is different in the amount of TV they want to watch. One could sit for days if allowed while another only can tolerate about 30 minutes. One is obsessed with a certain cartoon and one loves to watch The Food Network (I think he has a crush on the Pioneer Woman LOL).

    All things in moderation unless it really is harmful is my motto. And of course we monitor what they watch and if its out of hand turn it off and redirect them to other activities.

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  15. Alicia G

    08/26/2014

    We go in spurts, right now we are at a twenty minute Netflix/Amazon episode or maybe half a movie each day. Sometimes we go on a show break for a few weeks when there has been too much arguing about extra TV time or whining about when it is going to be show time.

    Something we’ve been doing more of is playing audiobooks during busy times- like when I’m in the shower or cooking or on the phone or just need to sit & read a bit. She can entertain herself but not 100% so having an audiobook helps so much. We get longer CD’s at the library or Audible, Sparkle Stories free on itunes each week (they have subscriptions too). We also got a CD player with some books with CD stories that helped a lot….although currently the CD player has somehow been stuffed full of coins. Hmm.

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